Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya, has been urged to release critically ill journalist Thomas Awah Junior.
According to a press statement signed by Joel Simon, Committee to Protect Journalist, CPJ’s Executive Director, Awah suffered from poor physical health before his arrest, but his health has deteriorated badly since incarceration in Kondengui prison in Yaounde.
Below, full details of the CPJ statement.
His Excellency Paul Biya
President of the Republic of Cameroon
P.O. Box 100
December 19, 2018
Sent via facsimile & email
Dear President Biya,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy organization, writes to request that you release imprisoned journalist Thomas Awah Junior, the Northwest correspondent for privately owned Afrik 2 Radio in Yaoundé and publisher of the monthly Aghem Messenger magazine, on humanitarian grounds.
A military court on May 25, 2018, sentenced Awah to 11 years in prison, after he was convicted on several charges including terrorism and the spreading of false news, according to media reports and a copy of the judgment seen by CPJ. Awah was arrested in Bamenda on January 2, 2017, while interviewing protesters for Afrik 2 Radio, according to CPJ research.
Awah suffered from poor physical health before his arrest, but his health has deteriorated badly since his incarceration in Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé. On September 17, 2018, an increasingly frail and emaciated Awah was admitted to a private ward at the Yaoundé Central Hospital after a social media campaign went viral. The campaign included shocking photographs of a critically ill Awah, according to local journalists, a BBC Pidgin report, and a CPJ review of the social media posts. A local nongovernmental organization, the Unity Foundation, stepped in to ensure he received treatment for chronic tuberculosis and pneumonia, according to a person familiar with the details of Awah’s hospitalization.
Despite his continuing poor health, Awah was discharged from hospital on October 16 due to mounting hospital bills, according to a person with knowledge of his hospitalization who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, as well as local media reports and a tweet by the Unity Foundation. Awah was sent back to Kondengui Prison, where he remains critically ill.
According to CPJ’s 2018 prison census, Awah was one of seven journalists imprisoned in Cameroon as of December 1, 2018, a fact that impacts international perceptions of your country and its commitment to human rights. While we welcome the release of Michel Biem Tong and Akumbom Elvis McCarthy on December 14, 2018, journalists should never be imprisoned for their work. We are particularly concerned that Awah remains jailed despite his deteriorating health.
We therefore urge you to use the powers bestowed on you under the constitution of Cameroon to ensure that Awah is unconditionally released on humanitarian grounds. Such a gesture would be viewed both as a compassionate act and as a demonstration of your government’s commitment to complying with international human rights treaties to which Cameroon is a state party.
Committee to Protect Journalists